Council consider legal action in schools row

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COUNCIL chiefs are considering taking legal action after six local authorities successful challenged the Government’s decision to scrap a multi-million pound schools programme.

Wigan Council is still weighing up action after the High Court ruled ministers had “unfairly and unlawfully” pulled the plug on the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in six areas, including Luton and Nottingham.

Coun Sue Loudon, cabinet champion for children and young people, said: “Although the High Court ruled that the Government’s process was wrong, the councils have not had their BSF programmes reinstated.

“Any challenge would involve having to follow the same route as other councils and hiring a barrister.

“Wigan Council has to decide if it is worth paying because it would be wrong to spend money going through the courts at a time of huge spending cuts.”

The axe fell in July when Labour’s BSF programme was drastically curtailed after the coalition Government took power.

Every secondary school in England was due to be rebuilt or refurbished over a 15-20 year period at an estimated cost of £55 billion.

But this was among the first education schemes to be cut back by the coalition’s Education Secretary Michael Gove who said the programme was beset by “massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy”.

In Wigan, after losing out on £257m of funds, the plug was pulled on a new Rose Bridge High at Ince, a new Deanery High in Wigan, a new super-school in Ashton to replace Cansfield and Byrchall high schools and a similar venture substituting Standish and Shevington high schools.

Officers had already spent £1.2m working up plans for the new secondaries.

The cuts led to the cancellation of projects at more than 700 schools, provoking uproar from councils, unions and Labour politicians, who warned it was a tragedy and would have a catastrophic effect on pupils.

Six councils in England asked Mr Justice Holman at London’s High Court to order the Education Secretary to reconsider individual schemes, properly taking account of their merits.

The applications for judicial review involve Waltham Forest Council, Newham Council, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell Council, and Kent County Council.

Lawyers for the councils say the Education Secretary failed to consult properly, did not give adequate reasons before stopping projects and breached legitimate expectations that they would be funded.

The Education Secretary argues that his decisions were not made lightly and are not open to legal challenge.

His lawyers say the six councils seeking judicial review will in any event receive in total “well in excess of £1 billion in BSF funding” and the case was about “whether they must get even more.”